Let’s Dance about Architecture

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I had this moment with Carrie Brownstein a few weeks ago.  I was listening to All Songs Considered’s spring music preview and she said something about The National that really got me.  The preview show is one of my favorites because it’s the ASC crew just hanging out and nerding out about music for about an hour and a half.  Does an hour and a half sound like along time for a podcast?  It is.  The podcast is that awesome.  I like conversational podcasts of that nature, where one can play voyeur to a conversation of like minds, the kind of conversation one could hop in and out of effortlessly.

And anyway, well they came to the part where one of them (Robin?) was playing a preview off of High Violet, The National’s new one.  And Carrie expressed some reticence.  The song was amazing, she admitted, but she wasn’t sure if she would be able to love High Violet the way that she loved Boxer.  Her relationship with Boxer had been too intimate.  Too intense.  And no matter how great the new album might be, it just couldn’t be the same to her.  There was a moment with Boxer that could be neither undone nor repeated.

I had that same moment with Alligator.  So it was hard for me to get into Boxer.  I’ve been trying lately, but it’s sort of half-hearted.  I’d even concede that Boxer is a better album.  The songs tighter, the polish smoother.  But I just can’t quite feel it.

So it’s with a bit of trepidation that I’m listening to High Violet right now over at NPR.  You can stream the whole thing here.  It’s awesome.  Incredible.  But I just don’t know how I feel.

This is something that I love most about music though.  The ability to have that indelibly intimate moment with a song.  Or an album.  Even on the most remote desert island across the farthest ocean, one can feel a human connection that is positively singular.

And then, later on, when you’ve returned from the desert island, moved on to some next phase in your life, these new songs come along.  I’d compare it to a relationship: it’s like dating someone who looks just like an ex, has most of the same interests, even the same first name.  There’s always going to be something there preventing them from being to you what the first was.  Even if they’re better than the first.

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My week has completely wiped me out, and I can’t focus on a damn thing here at work. So in the interest of unproductivity, here are a few things I’ve been listening to lately.

Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

Astro Coast 

Man, I could listen to these guitar riffs all damn day. I tried briefly to decide whether these riffs sounded derivitive of or inspired by a whole catalogue of classic indy rock, but quickly decided that I didn’t care. I love this CD. Go check it out. Highly recommended.

Freelance Whales – Weathervanes

Weathervanes 

Another Brooklyn group that nobody’s heard of (yet, anyway). At first listen I thought these guys were gonna be another Owl City (I’m not particularly into Owl City, personally), but they really do have their own sound going on here. Lots of layers, some catchy riffs, and some nice percussion work. The CD/vinyl release of this isn’t until next month, but you can get it in mp3 format on Amazon. This has been at the top of my playlist for weeks now. Great stuff.

Broken Bells

Broken Bells 

Danger Mouse plus James Mercer (The Shins)? Yes please! I keep trying to decide if I’m tired of The Shins or faithful to them, but this work here with Danger Mouse is great. If The Shins’ next ablum is as fresh as this, then they might win me back.

Best of Pavement

Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement 

Have you ever had that moment where you’re talking music with someone and you’re on the subject of indy rock and (almost inevitably) Pavement comes up… and whoever you’re talking to has never listened to them? Yeah, I hate that too. I was never even the biggest Pavement fan, and hell I got into them waaaaay after the fact. But still, there’s stuff here that anyone into music should know. At last there’s a best of to recommend the newcomer. It seems like a pretty good mix of Pavement tracks, complete with classics and lesser knowns.

On the subject of Pavement, I feel compelled to link this interview I read a week or so ago with Stephen Malkmus. They’re doing a reunion tour. I don’t know how I feel about that. And apparently, neither does Malkmus. To me Pavement seems a band so rooted to its era that a reunion tour just sounds cheap. I guess you can say that about all bands to an extent, but Pavement was very, very much a reaction to the rock of its day. They’re a band that should stay broken up if you ask me. They should still do the tour, I think. But instead of calling the band Pavement, they should call it Stephen Malkmus and the Former Members of Pavement.

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Ended up eschewing multiple invites for fun times tonight, so as to decompress a bit and catch up some writing.  Blog writing, creative writing, letter writing.  I have notes scribbled down from my week for things I haven’t had a chance to compose.  I’m a busy man, public servant that I am.  My free time comes at a premium.

I had read this article earlier in the week, courtesy of the inimitable Bookninja. It concerns today’s glut of published poetry.  The fact that so many poems are being published today, more than ever, and the fact the standard of quality is pretty low across the board.  I’m having a hard time, honestly, deciding if the article inveighs against amateur poetry, novice poetry, publishing in general, or… I don’t know what.  I think the point is rather semantic, in either case.

Here’s a little chunk of the author’s thoughts:

Who is writing all this poetry? In quieter times, the art’s only significant promoters were English professors who focused on reading poetry for its own sake. Today colleges across America have hundreds of programs devoted to teaching men and women how to actually write the stuff. Those in charge of undergraduate and M.F.A. programs have cast themselves in the role of poetry-writing cheerleaders who are busy assuring tens of thousands of students that they are talented poets who should expect their work not only to be published but to win awards as well.

The notion that writing and performing “poetry” is the easiest way to satisfy the American itch for 15 minutes of fame has spilled out of our campuses and into the wider culture. You can’t pick up a violin or oboe for the first time on Monday morning and expect to play at Lincoln Center that weekend, but you can write your first poem in May and appear at an open mike in June waving a “chapbook” for sale. The new math of poetry is driven not by reader demand for great or even good poetry but by the demand of myriads of aspiring poets to experience the thrill of “publication.”

Clearly the situation is dire.  The article goes on to break down this modern poetic glut in terms of numbers, and, as anyone who watches the news knows, numbers are proof of any point that one might wish to prove.

One of my first jobs out of college was proofreading amateur poetry for one of the country’s (at the time) largest vanity presses.  It was the most execrable job that I’ve ever performed, and this is considering my experience in tech support and bill collecting.  You simply don’t know the depth of the tepid, cliche, trite pablum that the typical amateur produces.  Poems about sunsets were frequently the good ones.  Each stanza was a tribute to the fundamental lack of taste, education, and experience of the amateur.

So, I get it.  I really get what this guy is getting at.  It wasn’t until, some years later, after dating a poet that I began reading poetry again in earnest.  Jaded I had become.

But.  And I have a but.  While I agree with the author’s general sentiment, this begs a question I’ve been wrestling with:

To what extent should art be participatory?

It’s that simple.  But good luck with it.

The author makes a comparison to picking up a classical instrument and expecting to hammer out a few magnum opuses in a few months.  I don’t think that’s fair.  We all speak English.  We don’t all play music instruments.  That analogy would be more appropriate if I were to, tomorrow, decide to make my name known as a German poet, not knowing a single lick of German, save for (fittingly) schadenfreude.  We’re all amateur poets in English, at least in some vague perhaps platonic sense.  But that doesn’t mean that our drivel, or even our wit, is publication worthy.

There was this other article I read, and it was a few weeks ago, so I lost track of it, but it was some academic type railing against Rock Band.  The essential argument that he laid out was that people who play Rock Band feel like they are playing music, and this is one of the greatest fallacies of our digital generation.

I disagree.  I do, to be sure, lament the decline of musical skill that our culture has suffered.  There was a day when instruments and sheet music were present in every home.  Song writers actually made money off of sheet music.  Real money.  And folks at home would, if they wanted to hear a tune, pick up an instrument and play.

Yes, it is sad that those days are gone.  But I’m a practical man.  As enriching as experience with a musical instrument is, it’s very hard to find the time to dedicate to such pastimes these days.  So, wouldn’t it be okay if we had a game where people could, if not really play the instruments, play along?  No, it’s not original.  But the point is that people are participating in music.  And they’re doing it in the home, which I think is one of the most important parts of it.

The author of the unlinked article made a snide comparison early on to a chess master, suggesting that a chess master who considered himself an adept military strategist would be absurd.  Yeah, no shit!  And when people say that they’re good at Rock Band, they quite specifically mean the video game.  The author, in despising this verisimilitude of music has himself confused skill with the one for the other.

After reading this snob’s article, I couldn’t help but think that if he had met, in person, a legendary chess master, he would have been flattered.  He would tell everyone he knew about it.  But if he met a Rock Band champ (I guess they have tournaments for that?), he would revile him and mock him (or her!).  How much difference is there, really, between the two?  Both are highly abstract participatory activities.

I think maybe I’m getting a tad off track.  Or maybe not.  I’m talking about participation here.   Whether it be music or literature.  I think that the quick and easy nature of the participation is a distraction here.  It’s easy to blow off someone’s “15 minutes.”  But that’s really a red herring.  Isn’t it enriching for a culture to participate in its artistic community, regardless of how it might manifest itself in these confusing, fast, modern times?

So I come back to publishing and poetry.  Should amateur poets be encouraged?  I doubt you’ll see too many amateurs comparing themselves to the likes of Eliot.  Maybe the novices.  So is it okay that they suck so bad?  Should we find a way to embrace this unfiltered aesthetic?

On a certain level, I think I’m playing with a question in my mind that asks, how much difference is there, really, between a karaoke night and an amateur poetry slam?  Why should we embrace karaoke so readily, yet bring such a higher set of standards to the poetry reading?  I guess I should be comparing an open mic night to the poetry reading, on the presumption that there will be original works performed.  But still, you get the idea.

There’s a lot more to the discussion than that.  I’ve not touched on academics at all, nor the fact that the general public would be pressed to name even a 20th century poet to save their lives (including many of these amateurs).  Many would probably think that William Carlos Williams was a brand of paint or deck furniture.

Anyway.  I will leave you with this gem by Galway Kinnell, which you can read at its official internet posting here.  At that shitty old proofreading job that I had, one of my coworkers had this exact same job that Kinnell adumbrates and sardonically pokes at.  The closing line is killer though and is a disguised lesson to said amateurs.  Their inability to make such fine linguistic distinctions such as that captured in the last line are what keep them so (poetically) trapped.

The Correspondence-School Instructor Says Goodbye to His Poetry Students

Goodbye, lady in Bangor, who sent me
snapshots of yourself, after definitely hinting
you were beautiful; goodbye,
Miami Beach urologist, who enclosed plain
brown envelopes for the return of your very
“Clinical Sonnets”; goodbye, manufacturer
of brassieres on the Coast, whose eclogues
give the fullest treatment in literature yet
to the sagging breast motif; goodbye, you in San Quentin,
who wrote, “Being German my hero is Hitler,”
instead of “Sincerely yours,” at the end of long,
neat-scripted letters extolling the Pre-Raphaelites:

I swear to you, it was just my way
of cheering myself up, as I licked
the stamped, self-addressed envelopes,
the game I had of trying to guess
which one of you, this time,
had poisoned his glue. I did care.
I did read each poem entire.
I did say everything I thought
in the mildest words I knew. And now,
in this poem, or chopped prose, no better,
I realize, than those troubled lines
I kept sending back to you,
I have to say I am relieved it is over:
at the end I could feel only pity
for that urge toward more life
your poems kept smothering in words, the smell
of which, days later, tingled in your nostrils
as new, God-given impulses
to write.

Goodbye,
you who are, for me, the postmarks again
of imaginary towns—Xenia, Burnt Cabins, Hornell—
their solitude given away in poems, only their loneliness kept.

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I’ve been trying to find a moment to do a “favorite music of ’09” post, but it keeps escaping me.  I spent today trying to be productive through the fog of readjusting to nine to five life.  During my vacation I slept past noon almost every day.  My body just does not know what’s going on right now.  What time is it?  Should we be somewhere?  When I’m awake, it feels like I should be asleep, and when asleep it feels I should be awake.

In the meantime, I would encourage everyone to head over to NPR to catch a first listen of Vampire Weekend’s new album.  You can stream the whole thing here.  My first reaction is that it’s not quite as catchy as the first album, but still pretty catchy.  There’s more of those 80’s-ish afro-pop sounding beats so far, the ones that seem to remind me of Peter Gabriel.  I don’t really feel like listening to any Peter Gabriel to verify if that’s actually what it should be reminding me of, but if you yourself would like to pursue that then I would salute you for doing so.  Let me know how those old Peter Gabriel albums are doing these days.

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I’m finishing up all of my Christmas preparations, and I feel like I’ve been a total slouch this year.  This probably isn’t true, but anything short of amazing always feels like too little when it comes to the holidays.  A number of my gifts were last minute, which always makes me feel like a slacker.

The good news is that the Christmas mix CD came out amazing.  It has been receiving love from all who hear it.  This is good.  Love is the objective.  Holiday Christmasy love to be specific.

The one thing about it that’s kinda thrown me is how unheard of some of these songs are.  For example, the Run D.M.C. track that starts it off–this is one of my favorite Christmas songs ever.  I just assumed that people knew it.  But few do.  In fact, songs like these are the quickest way to find out who the music snobs are among your friends.  My music snob friends all pegged it right away.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the tracklist.  It’s a mix of tasteful classics, with a few gems in there for fun.

01. Run-D.M.C. – Christmas In Hollis (3:00)
02. Stevie Wonder – What Christmas Means to Me (2:31)
03. Weezer – O Come All Ye Faithful (2:05)
04. Twisted Sister – Heavy Metal Christmas (The Twelve Days of Christmas) (5:15)
05. Peggy Lee with Jud Conlon’s Rhythmaires – Its Christmas Time Again (3:00)
06. Cast of Sesame Street – I Hate Christmas (1:54)
07. Hall & Oates – No Child Should Ever Cry on Christmas (4:04)
08. U2 – Christmas Baby Please Come Home (2:21)
09. The Rat Pack – The Christmas Song (Sammy Davis, Jr.) (3:23)
10. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow (3:45)
11. The Jackson 5 – Up On The Housetop (3:13)
12. Alton Ellis – Christmas Coming (2:23)
13. Louis Armstrong & The Commanders – Zat You Santa Claus (2:40)
14. Frank Sinatra – Mistletoe and Holly (2:20)
15. James Brown – Merry Christmas Baby (3:56)
16. Pink Martini – Do You Hear What I Hear? (3:57)
17. Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby (3:26)
18. Squirrel Nut Zippers – I’m Coming Home For Christmas (3:46)
19. Julia Lee & Her Boy Friends – Christmas Spirit (2:48)
20. Wham – Last Christmas (4:28)
21. Vince Guaraldi Trio – Christmas Time Is Here [Vocal (2:47)
22. Various Artists – Christmas In the Hood (feat. Deacon) (3:54)
23. Cash, Johnny – Christmas As I Knew It [#] (3:02)
24. Aqua Teen Hunger Force – I Sure Hope I Don’t Have to Beat Your Ass
This Christmas (5:08)

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My 2009 mix CD is at long last complete!

As in previous years, it’s  a mix of recent and current favorites, with some old favs thrown in to round it out.  This year I am quite pleased with the results.

I made a new rule regarding the titling of mix CDs.  There’s always the question of whether or not to title a mix.  If it has a theme, it’s simple enough.  But if there isn’t a clear uniting theme among the tracks… well, anything I think of just feels sort of pretentious to me.  Unless the goal is irony, it just doesn’t feel right.

So!  The new rule is that mix CDs without a unifying theme will be titled by choosing three to six semi-random words from the titles of the songs.  The title of this mix CD is French Buddha Tornado.  The track list is as follows:

1) French Navy – Camera Obscura
2) The Next Time Around – Little Joy
3) Tonight – The Robot Ate Me
4) Over and Over Again (Lost and Found) – Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah
5) One Time Too Many – Pheonix
6) Between the Bars – Madeleine Peyroux
7) Gone Away – My Brightest Diamond
8) The Story I Heard – Blind Pilot
9) VCR – The XX
10) Masterfade – Andrew Bird
11) I Heard a Voice – The Deadly Snakes
12) This Tornado Loves You – Neko Case
13) Swimmers – Broken Social Scene
14) Shine a Light – Wolf Parade
15) Carnival – Kevin Devine
16) Tear Down the House – The Avett Brothers
17) I Love You and Buddha Too – Mason Jennings
18) Reben Rebel – Seu Jorge
19) All the Wine – The National
20) Rebellion (Lies) – Arcade Fire
21) Silja Line (On Settling for a Normal Life) – The Rosebuds

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Because apparently five days isn’t enough.

It was a pretty full weekend actually.

I managed to catch the Caleb Stine hosted event at the Creative Alliance on Saturday, and it was waaaaay more amazing than I thought it would be (and I thought it was going to be really amazing). I mainly wanted to see this local country musician named Arty Hill.  I caught Arty Hill first a few months back.  I hadn’t been to the place I saw him in years, but apparently in the intervening time it’s become something of a local country hub.  And when I say country I’m not talking about country music top 40 stuff.  No.  We’re taling old Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, June Carter Cash, Bob Wills, George Jones.  That sort of thing.  Old country.  The good stuff.

But Arty only played a few songs at the show, and that turned out to be more than okay.  Got to hear some old gospel songs, old Confederate murder ballads, good old fashioned Irish jigs, and some surprises.  Wish I had some photos and sound bites, but this little mention will have to do.

I was hoping to spend some time reading and maybe doing some writing today, but that didn’t really happen.  This is the sort of thing I need to start being selfish about.  I spent too many hours today running errands and cooking dinner.  It’s not like I’m cooking for a family or anything, so why do I need to go all out just cooking for myself and spend so much time at it?  There are other things I’d like to do.  I guess it just wasn’t meant to be today.

Also I wanted to lift weights today.  I only lifted once last week.  At least I jogged a bit.  But this week I’m looking for some more discipline.  I’ve done a good job of toning up from last spring’s junk food indiscretions, however I have some goals to reach before the end of the year and, time, it is a runnin’ out.

Anyway.

I have a kitchen full of food, and I’m looking forward to doing some cooking this week.  I’m thinking about ginger and lime this week.  Ginger and lime.  That is the sort of tone that I wish to set.

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